Twin Oaks
Near Mineral, Virgnia/2002.10.16-2002.11.01

Down the road from Acorn, Twin Oaks (website) is one of the oldest and largest (at the time of our visit - 80 or so adults and 15 children) secular intentional communities in North America. Back when we were visiting Niederkaufungen, Erika borrowed, "Twin Oaks, The First Five Years" and while at Twin Oaks Erika read the next book, "Twin Oaks, Is It Utopia Yet?" Both gave a very intimate view of the community and many of our initial questions were answered.

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When we first contacted Twin Oaks' visitors program we were informed that they were not accepting any families to participate in their three-week orientation because they had no room for any more children in the community. Fortunately, a family there saw our website and were interested to meet us, and agreed to sponsor our stay. The day before our visit, though, the family gave birth to a baby, and so another family quickly stepped up to host us. Another member agreed to vacate his room for us. The timing worked out well so that we were able to participate in most of the orientations scheduled for the visiting group.

There was so much to discover about the community and it's 35 years of history. They were formed much like a kibbutz, with shared income, farm, businesses, and big dining room. They even once had a children's house where all the children slept with one 'house mother' but they had since done away with it, just as most kibbutzim have. They all had the agreement to work 42 hours. They submit their work-schedule preferences and then pick up a completed copy (done by a couple of people who spent 2 days each week just coordinating everyone's schedule) at the beginning of the workweek and then drop them off again at the end of the week for filing (to keep track of how much work went into each category). The different areas of domestic work included the kitchen, which served lunch and dinner everyday, the huge gardens and dairy cows, cleaning common areas, laundry, organizing the big clothing rooms, childcare, building and land maintenance and fixing up bicycles (there were numerous public bicycles that you could just hop on and ride and leave where you end up). Money-making enterprises included their famous hammock business for which they also made their own rope, their tofu and tempeh business, and their indexing business.

Twin Oaks' land stretches over one kilometer along the Santa Anna river. There were fields and forests to walk through and a man-made pond to swim in, swings to swing in, and hammocks everywhere! There were quite a few buildings, most residential including one to house up to 12 guests, one for offices, one for the dining room and kitchens, at the end of a long forested path, past the hidden retreat cabin (which you could sign up to stay at) was the industrial rope-making building. The layout of the community and the buzz of people working gave it the feel of a village.

Momo enjoyed playing with all the resident kids. The reason they were not accepting families at the time of our visit was because of their strict 5 adults to 1 child ratio. They also took into account any couples who were planning on children. This ratio had to do with expenses and the fact that each child received an allowance according to age. It seemed that many of the parents there did not like this policy because their own kids' social needs were not met and they felt forced to put them in public school (half of the families went this route) or they occasionally organized week-long "camps" for outside homeschooled kids to come in and learn about country living.

The standard of living was high at Twin Oaks. All of their needs were met by the community and the buildings seemed to all be in good shape. This is contrasted by the fact that when their earnings were split between all members, the income per person was under the "poverty level" and this allowed them to have state supported health care.

Our days seemed to be divided between orientations and work. For work we took turns with Momo (and often watched other kids in addition to her) so we could work in the kitchen and the gardens (they grew much of their food and bought the rest, often not organic..)

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or scrape gourds,
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or take pictures of the hammocks for their website
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or help Piper organize her children's reading program materials.

21_raw-dinner__20021021 (49KB)Our evening and weekends were full of social activities which we often learned about from the efficient announcement board that was located in the dining room. Announcements were written on three-by-five cards and placed in grooves and then slid along to keep in chronological order. They included messages such as "Anyone seen my hat?" to "Does anyone want to share car expenses (cars were all communal but required you to pay a fee) into town?" etc). Another board they had was full of clip boards, each with a different topic of discussion. Here people could carry on a dialogue without having to have meetings. It seemed to work to keep communication moving in such a large group of people.

We were pleased to find that woman named Shakti was organizing raw dinners every Friday evening. It met our need for connection and inclusion and was fun to share with other interested people what we know. During one of these conversations we lent our "12 Steps to Raw Food" book to our new friends Greg and Brooke (who were there for the orientation), and with this inspiration they went all raw and have since turned their Costa Rican homestead into a raw permaculture project.

Other events we attended included a party at a local Dorthy Day Catholic Worker project and a visit to a nearby earthship building project.

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One weekend we shared a van with ten other members to go to DC to the huge anti-war protest.
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And on Halloween the kids got dressed up and we had a natural-food trick-or-treating in our building. It met our need for fun and healthy treats! Later there was a big party complete with talent show and dancing.
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We immensely enjoyed our visit and the time we spent meeting new people, walking the forested trails, eating watermelon (all-you-could-eat!), picking raspberries, and watching Momo being able to run around with the other kids in wide open spaces.

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At the end of our stay we felt satisfied and inspired to have experienced an income-sharing egalitarian community that meets the needs of so many people.

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